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Seventeen years later, the aftermath of 9/11 continues to haunt us. All of us who were alive and old enough to remember will never forget where we were and the effect it has had on our lives. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, a division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, under the Dept. of Labor accounted for 2,886 9/11 related injuries in 2001, a list including people of all ages, ethnicities gender, and types of work—in essence, a snapshot of America. For those who responded to the attacks, the toll it continues to take is unforgiving.
This past Friday, FBI Director Christopher Wray, along with the special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund held a forum at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with a goal of encouraging federal law enforcement officers still suffering from health problems relating to the the attack to take advantage of available resources.
In the years since that horrible morning, the country has tried to move forward in part by encouraging those who were exposed to the toxic air released from the debris to access services and benefits that could help them cope or prolong their lives.
The 9.11 World Trade Center Health Program was created to provide care and monitor not only first responders but people who lived and worked nearby Ground Zero. The program estimates over 400,000 people were either exposed to toxic contaminants or sustained Ground Zero-related injuries or emotional trauma after the initial attacks. Making up the program’s top ten post-9/11 illnesses are Chronic Rhinosinusitis, cancer, PTSD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Depression, and anxiety.
The program was created after the signing of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, named for an NYPD officer who died of a respiratory disease in 2006. It divides those eligible for care into four categories: FDNY Responder, General Responder, workers or volunteers who provided support; NYC Survivor, a person present in the disaster area as a result of their work, residence, school or daycare; and finally, Pentagon/Shanksville, PA Responders who were involved in the other attacks that occurred that day.
Last week, city firefighters added 18 more names to the 182 already etched on the memorial wall at their headquarters. The names represent firefighters who have died from post-9/11 related illnesses, underlining the fact that years later, the impact is personal and devastating.
On a greater scale, the two memorial reflecting pools with the names etched of the nearly 3,000 who died the day of the tragedy remain an enduring reminder of those lost. As you look up from the pools, you see a literal manifestation of hope: the 1,776 feet tall One World Trade Center tower.
In 2005, when the design for the tower was still being worked out, the plans were adjusted for increased safety and security. Changes included moving the site of the building further from the heavier traffic on West Street and adding tempered laminated and multi-layered glass windows.
Billed as “safe, sustainable and artistically dynamic” on the World Trade Center’s website, the tower’s safety measures exceed what’s required under New York’s building codes. Designed around a strong steel frame supported by beams and columns, One World Trade Center was designed to be the safest commercial building in the world. NYPD’s counterterrorism Bureau polices the area around the building and while an underground Vehicle Screening Center serves as a security checkpoint and you must have special permission to access closed and restricted sites.
In 2012, Architectural Digest previewed the new One World Trade Center which ultimately opened in 2014 saying the building that emerged out of the design revisions was “one of the safest, technologically advanced, and environmentally sensitive in the world.” Its 3-foot concrete slabs are designed to withstand natural disasters like high winds and earthquakes.
In addition, it has a heavy, blast-resistant base called a podium, a specially designed fire suppression, 70 specially protected elevators and most notably a stairwell exclusively for emergency personnel.
Although increased safety measures can never guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, we can look to buildings like One World Trade Center as inspiration for rethinking the way we build our structures of the future and rehab and retrofit existing buildings.
The buildings we design are a manifestation of the strength, security and safety we desire to have as we interact with each other in shared spaces. It takes many people working together to come up with effective designs, plans and programs. By creating more sustainable and safe buildings and by continuing to support those who still need help in the wake of 9/11, we honor those whose lives were lost and reaffirm that the most important assets we have are human lives.